United Arab Emirates

Gender Gap Index[1]

Gender Gap Index 2014
Overall Economic Participation Political Empowerment Educational Attainment
Rank Score Rank Score Rank Score Rank Score
115 0.644 123 0.515 96 0.111 83 0.988
(Rank: out of 142 countries) (Score: 0.00 = inequality, 1.00 = equality)


Family Code/ Personal Status Law

  • United Arab Emirates (UAE) laws are based on Islamic law and influenced by Egyptian code and French civil law. Shari'ah law governs the Personal Status Law, adopted in 2005, which regulates matters such as marriage, divorce, and child custody.
  • It should be noted that there exists a large expatriate population in the UAE, primarily from South Asia; approximately 20% of the population are actual citizens and thus fully protected by the Federation's laws.


  • The minimum legal age of marriage is 18 for girls and boys
  • The 2005 Personal Status Law includes a provision at article 56 stating that a husband has the right to obedience from his wife ‘in accordance with custom’; husbands are considered to be head of the household.
  • With regards to parental authority, Shari'ah law views fathers as the legal guardians of children, while mothers are considered their physical custodians


  • Men have the right to unilaterally divorce their wives.
  • Women who wish to divorce can either petition for a divorce on the basis of one of a very narrow range of reasons (e.g. they can prove physical harm, they have been abandoned for at least 3 months, or he has neglected his financial obligations to her or her children), or request a ‘khula' divorce and forfeit their dowry
  • In the event of divorce, under the Personal Status Law mothers are granted physical custody of daughters until they reach the age of 13 and of sons until they reach the age of ten, at which point the custody is transferred to the father or his family

Resources and Assets

  • Women in the UAE are considered adults at the age of 18, at which point they are legally able to have independent access to land and non-land assets.
  • The law also provides that when women marry, previously owned assets - as well as any income resulting from those assets – remain separate property of the spouses.
  • In terms of access to financial services, women may open a bank account in the same way as a man and may access to bank loans and credit without the permission of her husband or father
  • However, generally women are discouraged from doing business with men, to whom they are not related, making entrepreneurship activities difficult.
  • Shari'ah law provides for detailed and complex calculations of inheritance shares. A woman may inherit from her father, mother, husband or children, and under certain conditions, from other family members. However, her share is generally smaller than a man's entitlement


  • There is no law mandating non-discrimination based on gender in hiring, nor does the law mandate equal remuneration for men and women for work of equal value.
  • Although Article 3 of the Constitution provides all Emirati citizens with the right to freely choose his or her own occupation, trade or profession, Articles 27, 29, and 34 of the Labour Law directly conflict with the later, restricting women from working at night, in jobs that could be hazardous to their physical or moral health (or any other work that is not specifically approved by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs), or working without the consent of a her husband or male guardian.
  • Pregnant women in the UAE are entitled to 45 days' paid maternity leave, to be financed by the employer.


  • There is no specific law criminalising domestic violence. The existing Penal Code gives male guardians the right to discipline women and children at their discretion, including the use of physical violence
  • There is no specific law addressing sexual harassment in the UAE. However, the Penal Code does penalize those who commit "scandalous and disgraceful acts" with a minimum of 6 months to 1 year in prison (Art. 358)
  • Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is not illegal in the UAE, although the Ministry of Health prohibits the practice in state hospitals and clinics.
  • FGM continues to be carried out in private clinics and in rural areas in some emirates
  • Little information is available as to prevalence rates, although a survey conducted at the Dubai Women's College (200 participants) in 2011 found that 34% of women had undergone some form of FGM

Political Participation

Women's Political Participation Year Total Source
Number of women in parliament (unicameral) 2014 7/40 IPU database
% of women in parliament 2014 17.5%
Legislated quotas for women for single/ lower house (yes/no) 2014 NO The Quota Project database http://www.quotaproject.org/en/index.cfm


  • Women's ability to exercise their rights depends to a large degree on her legal status in the UAE.
  • Large portions of the female population are comprised of foreign professional women residing temporarily on employment contracts, foreign women employed in the informal sector or as domestic workers (who are particularly vulnerable), or the wives of temporary foreign workers
  • The Constitution of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) upholds the principle of equal treatment of all citizens, but does not specifically address gender-based discrimination and contains references that primarily identify women as wives and mothers.


  • There are no quotas at national or sub-national level. The UAE is not an electoral democracy, political organizations and political parties are illegal, and both men and women have very limited political rights


  • Since 2011 the unicameral Majilis Watani Itihadi/ Federal National Council has 7/40 (17.5%)female representatives (20 indirectly elected, 20 appointed by rulers of the various emirates)
  • In 2011 1 woman was elected and 8 appointed to the FNC (9/40; 23%)


  • Journalists often practice self-censorship and publish government statements without criticism or comment.
  • Women are underrepresented in the media, and representations of women and discussions of gender issues do not tend to challenge traditional gender roles.

CEDAW and reservations[7]

  • The UAE ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women in 2004, with reservations to the following articles (2, 9, 15:2, 16, and 29:1):
  • Article 2 (f): The United Arab Emirates, being of the opinion that this paragraph violates the rules of inheritance established in accordance with the precepts of the Shari'ah, makes a reservation thereto and does not consider itself bound by the provisions thereof.
  • Article 9: The United Arab Emirates, considering the acquisition of nationality an internal matter which is governed, and the conditions and controls of which are established, by national legislation makes a reservation to this article and does not consider itself bound by the provisions thereof.
  • Article 15 (2): The United Arab Emirates, considering this paragraph in conflict with the precepts of the Shari'ah regarding legal capacity, testimony and the right to conclude contracts, makes a reservation to the said paragraph of the said article and does not consider itself bound by the provisions thereof.
  • Article 16: The United Arab Emirates will abide by the provisions of this article insofar as they are not in conflict with the principles of the Shari'ah.
  • Article 29 (1): The United Arab Emirates appreciates and respects the functions of this article. This article, however, violates the general principle that matters are submitted to an arbitration panel by agreement between the parties.

Economic Empowerment[8]

Women’s Economic Participation Year Total Source
Labour Force Participation
Ratio of female to male labour force participation 2014 0.51 World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report 2014
Labour force participation, female (% of total labour force) 2013 44% World Bank Gender Statistics Data Bank
Labour force participation, female (% of female population 15-64) 2012 46.8%
Labour force participation, male (% of male population 15-64) 2012 91.2%
Youth Employment
Ratio of female to male youth unemployment rate (% aged 15-24) 2012 256% World Bank Gender Statistics Data Bank
Unemployment, female (% of female labour force) 2014 10.8% World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report 2014
Unemployment, male (% of male labour force) 2014 2.4%
Unemployment, total (% of total labour force) 2012 3.8% World Bank Gender Statistics Data Bank
Sectors of Work
Agriculture (% of female employment) 2011 0.1% World Bank Gender Statistics Data Bank
Agriculture (% of male employment) 2011 4.6%
Women employed in non-agricultural sector (% of total non-agricultural employment) 2014 20% World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report 2014
Industry (% of female employment) 2011 6.4% World Bank Gender Statistics Data Bank
Industry (% of male employment) 2011 27.1%
Services (% of female employment) 2011 93.5%
Services (% of male employment) 2011 68.3%
Vulnerable employment (% of female employment) 2010 0.5%
Vulnerable employment (% of male employment) 2010 1%
Employers, female (% of employment) 2010 4.1%
Employers, male (% of employment) 2010 3.4%


  • Overall, while there has been a considerable increase in the number of women in the labour force (rising from 25% in the labour force in 1990 to 47% in 2012), women's participation in the labour force remains restricted, with reluctance on the part of husbands and male relatives cited as a major obstacle to women's employment and their promotion beyond junior-level positions [8]

[1] World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report 2014: http://www.weforum.org/reports/global-gender-gap-report-2014
[2] All information on legislation has been sourced from the OECD Social Institutions and Gender Index, 2014: http://genderindex.org/countries. Unless stated otherwise.
[3] http://genderindex.org/countries
[4] http://www.quotaproject.org/en/index.cfm
[5] http://www.ipu.org/parline-e/parlinesearch.asp
[6] http://genderindex.org/countries
[7] https://cedaw.wordpress.com/2007/04/10/algeria-declarations-reservations-and-objections-to-cedaw/
[8] All information on economic empowerment has been sourced from the World Bank Gender Statistics Data Bank: http://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/gender-statistics. Unless stated otherwise.
[9] http://genderindex.org/countries